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Big Band Report

Weekend of Jazz: A Capital Idea

By Published: April 2, 2003
Last December’s column on the depressing condition of big-band Jazz in this country has drawn a second positive response, this one from Derek Maddox of Beavercreek, OH, a suburb of Dayton, who writes in part:

“Like many growing communities we face the challenge of maintaining a quality school system. Some years ago it became apparent that we were outgrowing our high school’s capacity. At that time, the school system asked the community to support a bond issue to enlarge the size of the school. Part of the renovation included a new wing for the instrumental and choral programs, as well as a performance auditorium with nearly 800 seats.

“The auditorium . . . was included in the final plans only on the promise by the school’s music director that it would be used to educate not only the students but the community as a whole. As a result, our drama department produces three plays each year, one of them a musical with an orchestra provided by the school’s concert band program. Our choral groups perform a number of times each year, while the band holds recitals and concerts quite often.

“To be honest, most of the audience for these productions are proud parents and grandparents of the performers. We couldn’t fulfill our promise to the taxpayers and board of education that way. Thus was born the Weekend of Jazz. By holding clinics and seminars we maintain our emphasis on music education for the students, but by bringing in professional groups we are able to draw a wider audience from the Dayton / Beavercreek area. They certainly enjoy the shows, and hopefully they learn a little about Jazz as well.

“The weekend starts on Thursday evening with performances by the four Jazz bands from the Beavercreek junior and senior high schools. Whenever possible, we’ve had a professional musician in the audience who comes on stage with the kids for 15-20 minutes after each session to conduct a short 'clinic,' offering advice and direction. The other bands are in the audience, so every child benefits from every session. Last year, we were amazed by what Sherrie Maricle, the drummer and leader of the all-female big band DIVA, helped our kids discover about their own abilities.

“All day Sunday, and sometimes on Saturday afternoon, we have performance sessions for high school and college bands. Every high school in Ohio is invited to send bands, as are many from northern Kentucky and eastern Indiana. These are adjudicated performances, with at least one of the judges usually a member of our visiting professional band. The 'winning' bands receive a small cash award, but far more valuable are the 20-30 minute clinics held immediately after their performance. One of the judges always follows the band off-stage and gives them feedback on the performance, along with pointers on how to improve their musical skills. Every year, we receive letters from band directors thanking us for providing these types of clinics.

“Friday and Saturday evenings are set aside for performances by the professional band we’ve invited. This is the ’community education’ aspect of the weekend. Since starting the program we’ve welcomed the Count Basie Orchestra, Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band, DIVA, and trumpeter Jon Faddis and his trio. DIVA was an amazing group, and made the point to our young women that they could play Jazz as well as the men. Jon Faddis surprised everyone by inviting one of the trumpet players from a high school band onto the stage for a little improv session.

“When the Basie orchestra visited a couple of years ago, the kids were a bit suspicious about a Jazz band made up of old men who’d played for their grandparents. But they came anyway, and the result was astonishing. The orchestra members were amazed that a group of teen-agers could be so enthusiastic about their music. The kids were on their feet, stomping, clapping and dancing in the aisles. Some of them were even dancing with their grandparents! When the band paused to let the drummer take a solo, I thought the kids from our percussion department were going to tear the auditorium apart. I’ve never, ever seen a group of kids so worked up over any kind of music. You’d have thought you were in the middle of a rock concert, except for the 80-year-old saxophonist who had the kids in the palm of his hand.

“This year’s [recently completed] program, which included the Jeff Hamilton Trio and Woody Herman Orchestra, was no different. The auditorium was filled for the Woody Herman show, and half of those in the crowd were teen-agers. During one piece (“Fanfare for the Common Man”), many of the kids were on their feet shouting for more! [Leader] Frank Tiberi was surprised to see the first few rows of the audience comprised of screaming teens, but played to the kids and joked with them about 78 rpm records and how things were done ‘in the old days.’ They may not be selling 78 rpm records any more, but we sold a lot of Jeff Hamilton and Woody Herman CDs during intermission!

“It has been like that year after year. People, especially the kids, come in skeptical and leave amazed. This has transformed the lives of many of our students including my own daughter. She plays flute in the band but is the vocalist for the Jazz band. She’s probably the only teen-ager to leave the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with a two-CD compilation of Frank Sinatra big-band tunes. I know that she owns every Diana Krall disc ever made, and sings the songs constantly. She lives for the 7 a.m. Jazz band rehearsals three times a week.

“We’re working with a regional performing arts advocacy group to add our school’s auditorium as a Jazz venue. The only place where Jazz is performed regularly around here is a nightclub, and kids can’t go there for shows. We hope that within the next few years Jazz programs (and especially big-band Jazz) will become a regular feature in our community.”

Beavercreek is always looking for more big bands — high school, college or pro — to take part in the school’s Jazz Weekend. If you’re interested, check out their web site, www.weekendofjazz.org

With friends like these . . .
Veteran saxophonist Ray Reed, who has been ailing recently, learned on March 16 that he has friends in high places when no less than five of Southern California’s leading big bands gathered at the Musicians Union Auditorium in Hollywood for a fund-raiser emceed by Chuck Niles of KKJZ Radio. Jack Nimitz, Ray’s friend and fellow saxophonist, helped arrange the event, which featured performances by the Steve Huffsteter, Buddy Childers and Carl Saunders Big Bands, drummer Frank Capp’s Juggernaut and composer / pianist Bob Florence’s Limited Edition. Reed, who once played lead alto for the Stan Kenton Orchestra and has logged more than twenty years with SuperSax, has a rare blood disease, Wegener Granulomatosis, which requires ongoing medical treatment. We’ve not had any word about attendance but hope the auditorium was packed to the rafters. There couldn’t have been a better show in town for any worthier cause.

Also in March . . .
Winthrop University in nearby Rock Hill, SC, held its first Jazz Discovery Festival on March 15, a day-long event that included a clinic and performance by the Marvin Stamm Quartet and an appearance by the school’s Jazz Ensemble with guests Pete BarenBregge, former director of the Airmen of Note, and trombonist Rick Simerly from Tennessee. Stamm, of course, is an excellent trumpeter, so I went with a trumpet-playing friend, Dean Betts, who was especially interested in the afternoon clinic. Stamm presided but there were comments by every member of the quartet (pianist Bill Mays, bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Ed Soph), either responding to questions or speaking extemporaneously. There were more generalizations than specifics, but the students seemed to enjoy it and must have gotten some advice they could take home with them. After dining with two new-found musician friends from Columbia, Dean and I took our seats for the concert, which was opened by the Winthrop ensemble and closed by Stamm’s quartet. I was disappointed that BarenBregge and Simerly weren’t given more solo space (and that BarenBregge, who’s best known on tenor, played only soprano sax, even though he took part in a hair-raising duel with Winthrop’s splendid lead alto, DeMarius Jackson). But the quartet was in A-1 form, especially Stamm, who blew much better than he had in the afternoon session. There were morning and early afternoon performances by a number of high school bands but Dean and I arrived too late to see any of them. Maybe next year, as Winthrop plans to make this an annual event.

American Jazz Venues cleared for takeoff
The advocacy group American Jazz Venues is set to make its public debut April 24 in Newark, NJ, with a concert at the Newark Airport Marriott featuring the NJCU Jazz Ensemble and several nationally known performers. Those booked to appear include Clem DeRosa and the AJV All-Stars, the Tom Lellis Quartet, and blues singer Melba Joyce. Among the all-stars are baritone saxophonist Dennis DiBlasio, trumpeter George Rabbai, trombonist John Fedchock, alto saxophonist Bob Rawlins, tenor saxophonist Gerry De Loach, pianist Gary Fisher, bassist Bob Bowen and drummer Tim Horner. Vocalist Hillary Kole will perform with the NJCU Jazz Ensemble. DeRosa, a co-founder and past president of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE), is founder and president of AJV, a non-profit group whose goals are to create new venues for live Jazz performances and to help develop new, younger audiences for America’s indigenous art form. The groundwork has been completed and now it’s time for AJV to begin its work in earnest. Best of luck to all.

And last but not least . . .
The SFJazz all-star high school ensemble has been chosen for the second year in a row as one of fifteen finalists in Jazz@Lincoln Center’s annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band competition. The ensemble, formed in 2001 under the direction of Dr. Dee Spencer, is comprised of twenty-five of the finest high school musicians in the Bay area. One hundred thirty-three bands from the U.S. and Canada entered the competition by submitting recordings of three pre-selected Ellington songs. The finalists were chosen on the basis of soulfulness, improvisation, interpretation, technique and tone / intonation. The three-day competition and festival begins Saturday, May 17, at Lincoln Center in New York City. The bands will be judged by a panel of noted musicians including Ellington authority David Berger, bassist / composer Rufus Reid and J@LC artistic director Wynton Marsalis. On May 19, the top three bands will perform alone and with Marsalis as soloist, followed by the LCJO in an all-Ellington concert. The winning band receives a cash award, with other prizes for outstanding soloists and sections.

And that’s it for now. Until next time, keep swingin’!



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